SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Mindless explanations? The causal and explanatory role of mental states
(Affiliated Workshop, English)

The relationship between physical and mental entities is the central issues in philosophy of mind. Some authors claim that this relationship is identity, and that every mental state can be at least ontologically, or even epistemically, reduced to a physical state. Others claim that this relation is supervenience, and that mental states therefore are ontologically different from physical states. Besides reductionism and supervenience, there are other positions in the debate, such as property dualism, substance dualism and panpsychism. For each of these positions the question arises how our perception and knowledge of mental entities relates to our scientific understanding of the physical world.
Can mental states causally influence physical states? What is the causal role of the mind? Are mental concepts indispensable in cognitive science? What explanatory role do they play? The symposium gathers talks that address these questions from different perspectives: philosophy of mind, theory and modelling of causation, psychological models and cognitive neuroscience.
In particular, we want to address questions on the intersection of philosophy, psychology and neuroscience such as the following: Which role do psychological and neuropsychological models assign to mental states? Can a mental state play an explanatory role in understanding a brain state? What does it mean to study brain states as responses to mental, e.g. linguistic stimuli? Are mental diseases fully explained by physical causes? And if so, how can psychotherapeutic intervention be explained?


10:00--11:00 Margit Scheibel: Mental concepts and brain activations: How cognitive neuroscientists look at mental concepts
11:15--12:15 Maria Sekatskaya: Against willusionism: The role of consciousness in intentional action
16:15--17:15 Alexander Gebharter: Specificity, proportionality, and the limits of mental causation and explanation
17:30--18:30 David Hommen: Psychology as Ethics: On the (Proto-)Moral Status of Mental Explanations
18:45--19:45 Roundtable Discussion


Margit Scheibel (Duesseldorf): Mental concepts and brain activations: How cognitive neuroscientists look at mental concepts
The research program of cognitive neuroscience aims at understanding the relation between mental phenomena and their physiological correlates. Popular techniques in the field (such as MEG, fMRI, PET, TMS) are brain mapping techniques. They are used to localize the brain basis of mental faculties (such as perception, attention, motivation, learning, memory, decision, language, action, emotion etc.), and to develop maps defining the spatial layout of the brain organization. The representation and processing of (faculty-)specific mental concepts are modeled in various, partially controversial ways in the respective subfields. All current models bear on spatial mappings, but the models differ which neural predictions, or which predictions about conceptual problems in case of brain damages, they make. In other words, the models make different assumptions as to the brain systems in which mental concepts should be anchored: The Amodal Symbolic Model, for instance, postulates that mental concepts are abstract amodal symbols anchored in an autonomous semantic system. The contrary extreme is the extreme Grounded Cognition Model which postulates that mental concepts are anchored in the modality-specific brain systems (systems which are typically involved in perception and action or emotion). In the first part of the talk, exemplary findings of neurocognitive research and selected models often referred to in the context of lexicalized mental concepts will be shortly sketched out to give an impression of how cognitive neuroscientists face mental concepts and deal with conceptual questions.
In the second part of the talk, some (more philosophically relevant) implications of the experimental research will be worked out. It is an assumption of the majority in cognitive neuroscience that the brain is the basis for mental phenomena and brain and mind are essentially two sides of the same coin (ontological monism). However, it is also a common assumption that `mind-oriented' and `brain-oriented' research disciplines describe and investigate mental concepts/faculties from different perspectives and with distinct levels of description (methodological and theoretic dualism). Cognitive neuroscientists use physiological and anatomical notions and methods; they inquire into the neural architecture that correlates with particular mental concepts/faculties. Thus, following the perspective and the general research program of cognitive neuroscience one accepts (although mostly indirectly) the following assumptions:
(i) One accepts that mental phenomena and physiological phenomena are analyzed and theoretically anchored in distinct research disciplines. The distinct descriptions are complementary and neither mental phenomena can be reduced to physiological phenomena nor vice versa.
(ii) One accepts a principled equivalence of mental phenomena and physiological phenomena. One does not assume -- given the current methods and analyses -- that any one-to-one relation can be described, neither of primitive units (in the sense of 1 neuron = 1 conceptual component/operation) nor of more complex units (in the sense of 1 activation pattern in particular cortical regions = 1 complex concept). This is due to different reasons, e.g. granularity mismatch of the distinct analyses, no a priori knowledge about appropriate mappings of mental and biological concepts, large contextual and individual variances in both mental and biological states etc.
(iii) One is supposed to accept that any description of a systematic relation between mental concepts and brain activations is statistical in nature (and not causal or explanatory). For one thing, this is because of what David Poeppel calls the "map problem": Spatiotemporal identification or localization of brain activity reveals correlations, but is no explanation, in which properties of neuronal circuits account for particular mental states/the execution of psychological functions (or vice versa). For another thing, only descriptions of statistical correlations are possible due to the thorny issue of where to draw the line between representation of mental concepts and other, closely related processes (such as generating conscious mental imagery or situation models).

Maria Sekatskaya (Duesseldorf): Against willusionism: The role of consciousness in intentional action
Willusionism claims that recent developments in psychology and neuroscience have shown that free will is an illusion. In the first part of my talk I will show that willusionism implies that many traditional kinds of explanations of intentional action are wrong, because these explanations presuppose causal links between conscious mental states and physical states, and willusionists deny that such links exist. In the second part of my talk, I will review the empirical facts on which willusionists base their theory, and will show that these facts don't support willusionist analysis of action. In the final part of my talk I will show that these facts, nevertheless, are relevant for the empirically based understanding of the role of conscious mental states in explanation of intentional action. In particular, they constrain the degree of control that agent supposedly has over her actions and give reasons to prefer compatibilist or event-causal libertarian theories of action to agent-causal theories.

Alexander Gebharter (Groningen): Specificity, proportionality, and the limits of mental causation and explanation
Many philosophers hold that the systems studied by the special sciences possess some kind of causal or at least explanatory autonomy. They are committed to the view that higher-level properties have causal powers that are to some extent independent of the causal powers of their corresponding lower-level properties or at least to the view that higher-level explanations are to some extent independent of the details of competing lower-level explanations. In this paper we use tools from the causal modeling literature and from information theory to investigate to what extent such claims can be underpinned by arguments resting on causal specificity and proportionality. Our analysis shows that while there are plenty of ways higher-level causes can be more proportional w.r.t. their higher-level effects, higher-level properties cannot have any causal powers in addition to the causal powers of their supervenience bases.

David Hommen (Duesseldorf): Psychology as Ethics: On the (Proto-)Moral Status of Mental Explanations
In this talk, I defend the view that the explanations of folk psychology are importantly different from other kinds of explanation in everyday life and science. At the core of folk psychological explanation is a conceptual connection between mental states and what individual agents are able to express -- linguistically or otherwise -- in their overt behavior. The attribution of mental states places actions which are considered as puzzling and in need of explanation in the context of an encompassing pattern of behavior, which is informed by general norms mediated through a social practice. Psychological explanations can thus be regarded as a kind of `normalizing explanation.'
Yet, the one who engages in folk psychological explanations does not merely observe the behavior of agents from a scientistically detached third-person perspective. Rather, she enters an interpersonal epistemic space, in which she struggles with her fellow co-subjects for a shared interpretation of common situations. Hence, the perspective of folk psychologists is more accurately described as a second-person perspective: a point of view within which there are neither objective nor subjective certainties, but merely assimilations of experiences to publicly available yet continuously adapting schemata, which are not to be measured according to criteria of theoretical adequacy but rather according to the ethical goals of communal life.

Organisation: Maria Sekatskaya & Corina Strößner (Düsseldorf)

Chair: Maria Sekatskaya & Corina Strößner
Time: 10:00-10:30, 19 September 2019 (Thursday)
Location: SR 1.006

Alexander Gebharter  
(University of Groningen, The Netherlands)

Alexander Gebharter is a postdoc at the University of Groningen. His research interests lie within philosophy of science and its intersection with metaphysics and philosophy of mind. Much of his work focuses on causation and related topics from a modelling perspective. For more details, see:

David Hommen  
(University of Duesseldorf, DCLPS, Germany)

David Hommen has studied philosophy, musicology and media sciences and has a doctoral degree in philosophy. He is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the DFG Collaborative Research Centre "The Structure of Representations in Language, Cognition, and Science" at Heinrich Heine University Duesseldorf. His main research areas are philosophy of mind, philosophy of language and analytic ontology. He has published books and papers on mental causation, the metaphysics of omissions, concepts and natural kinds.

Margit Scheibl 
(University of Duesseldorf, Germany)

Margit Scheibel currently does her PhD research at the Heinrich Heine University Duesseldorf /DFG CRC 991. She studied German Linguistics and Economics (B.A.) and General Linguistics/Psycholinguistics (M.A.) in Berlin (Humboldt-Universität) and Hamburg (Universität Hamburg). Margit Scheibel's main research focus is on semantic-conceptual processing in language comprehension and language production, the interface between visual perception/object recognition and language retrieval, and memory effects in language processing. Her PhD project investigates the specificity of conceptual representations in language processing and cognitive effects of underspecificity.

Maria Sekatskaya  
(University of Duesseldorf, DCLPS, Germany)

Maria Sekatskaya is a postdoc at the Heinrich Heine University Duesseldorf, DCLPS. She studied and worked at the Saint-Petersburg State University (Russia), and was a visiting scholar at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), University of California, Berkeley (USA) and the University of Mainz. Her main research interests are the free will problem, personal identity and philosophy of mind.

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